Outdoors

PlugVan voice-controlled camper module gives you a cozy camper van without tying you to a van

PlugVan voice-controlled campe...
PlugVan is an alternative to the camper van or camping trailer
PlugVan is an alternative to the camper van or camping trailer
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The basic kitchen area with sink and countertop – the portable single-burner stove is stored in a drawer below the counter, the fridge on a slide-out below the bench on the opposite side
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The basic kitchen area with sink and countertop – the portable single-burner stove is stored in a drawer below the counter, the fridge on a slide-out below the bench on the opposite side
The fold-out table works with the bench to create a dining area
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The fold-out table works with the bench to create a dining area
Touchscreen control center and air conditioner
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Touchscreen control center and air conditioner
The cabinets are located on a rod so they can slide out of the way for kitchen access
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The cabinets are located on a rod so they can slide out of the way for kitchen access
The kitchen lifts up out of the way to provide room to lie down on the bed below
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The kitchen lifts up out of the way to provide room to lie down on the bed below
Standing inside the van looking at the PlugVan structure 
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Standing inside the van looking at the PlugVan structure 
PlugVan covered the van's face to emphasize that it's a module for any large van, not just the Peugeot Boxer
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PlugVan covered the van's face to emphasize that it's a module for any large van, not just the Peugeot Boxer
PlugVan founder Jörg Kortmann sits inside the PlugVan camper at CMT 2019
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PlugVan founder Jörg Kortmann sits inside the PlugVan camper at CMT 2019
PlugVan debuts its unique slide-in camping module at CMT 2019
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PlugVan debuts its unique slide-in camping module at CMT 2019
The PlugVan camper offers a dining lounge, kitchen block, convertible bed, storage and smart control inside a compact space
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The PlugVan camper offers a dining lounge, kitchen block, convertible bed, storage and smart control inside a compact space
Kortmann demonstrates how the ceiling pulls right down when it's time to break the PlugVan down and remove it from the van
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Kortmann demonstrates how the ceiling pulls right down when it's time to break the PlugVan down and remove it from the van
The simple bolt lock on front of the bench secures the expanding side wall in place
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The simple bolt lock on front of the bench secures the expanding side wall in place
The PlugVan includes built-in connectivity with SIM card
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The PlugVan includes built-in connectivity with SIM card
Water storage under the furniture
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Water storage under the furniture
PlugVan held a vote at CMT – people overwhelmingly liked the camper module design but weren't quite as sure about the tech, particularly Amazon Alexa
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PlugVan held a vote at CMT – people overwhelmingly liked the camper module design but weren't quite as sure about the tech, particularly Amazon Alexa
The Plugvan includes a large, lift-up window for views outside
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The Plugvan includes a large, lift-up window for views outside
The window and lower doors provide access through the rear of the van
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The window and lower doors provide access through the rear of the van
The open PlugVan window provides some lift-gate-style shelter from the rain
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The open PlugVan window provides some lift-gate-style shelter from the rain
WIth an external water connection, Kortmann is able to hook up an outdoor shower
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WIth an external water connection, Kortmann is able to hook up an outdoor shower
The back of the sofa folds flat and fits together with the bench frame like a puzzle when it's time to build the bed
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The back of the sofa folds flat and fits together with the bench frame like a puzzle when it's time to build the bed
PlugVan ready to sleep
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PlugVan ready to sleep
The lift-up kitchen block lets you prepare food and eat in bed
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The lift-up kitchen block lets you prepare food and eat in bed
A roll-out fabric door covers the front end of the PlugVan camper
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A roll-out fabric door covers the front end of the PlugVan camper
A roll-out fabric door covers the front end of the PlugVan camper
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A roll-out fabric door covers the front end of the PlugVan camper
Tie-down straps hold the PlugVan module in place
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Tie-down straps hold the PlugVan module in place
Electrical hookup
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Electrical hookup
The installed PlugVan still leaves plenty of cargo space in the van
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The installed PlugVan still leaves plenty of cargo space in the van
The PlugVan is compact enough to leave plenty of room for cargo
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The PlugVan is compact enough to leave plenty of room for cargo
A peek inside
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A peek inside
A short video clip demonstrates how the PlugVan rolls in and out of the van
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A short video clip demonstrates how the PlugVan rolls in and out of the van
PlugVan's booth was on the outskirts of the CMT hall, but it still attracted a crowd
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PlugVan's booth was on the outskirts of the CMT hall, but it still attracted a crowd
PlugVan is an alternative to the camper van or camping trailer
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PlugVan is an alternative to the camper van or camping trailer
PlugVan imagines its module as a sort of pickup camper for cargo vans
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PlugVan imagines its module as a sort of pickup camper for cargo vans
PlugVan installation animation
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PlugVan installation animation
Screenshot of one of the touchpad menus
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Screenshot of one of the touchpad menus
Water systems menu of the PlugVan smart control system
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Water systems menu of the PlugVan smart control system
Screenshot of one of the PlugVan smart control touchpad menus: refrigerator, air conditioning, fan and heat (clockwise starting at top left)
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Screenshot of one of the PlugVan smart control touchpad menus: refrigerator, air conditioning, fan and heat (clockwise starting at top left)
Even with the compact size of its module, PlugVan offers three separate lighting zones
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Even with the compact size of its module, PlugVan offers three separate lighting zones

The most innovative camper van on display at this year's CMT show in Stuttgart wasn't actually a van at all. The PlugVan is a universal plug-and-play camper module that slides into the back of any cargo van, grows in size to fill out the space and provides a smart home-like living space while leaving room for motorbikes, camping gear and other cargo. Turn your work van into a camper van on Friday afternoon and back again on Monday morning, or rent a van and create an affordable, holiday-ready camper van in minutes.

Tired of the high prices, depreciation and hassles of camper van ownership, PlugVan founder Jörg Kortmann set out to create a new solution in 2017. Generally speaking, his idea was to create a van version of the pickup camper, a versatile, all-in-one camping module not tied to an individual van. Along the way, he added a state-of-the-art smart home system that lets occupants control all of the onboard electrical equipment via smartphone or voice.

The PlugVan concept is similar to the ioCamper that became one of our favorite camper concepts of 2018, but the execution is very different. Both designs have some smart, connected features, but the PlugVan is much simpler and more straightforward, designed to fit neatly in the back of the van.

That doesn't mean the PlugVan won't turn heads just like the ioCamper, though. Even in a nondescript corner of CMT, the PlugVan drew in hordes of attendees, most wearing some form of "what the heck is it?!" facial expression. A more polite version of that question was indeed the first thing out of our mouths when we strolled up to the rear bumper of the Peugeot Boxer rental van, a van that was all masked over to make the point that the display was not a Boxer camper van but something quite different.

PlugVan installation animation
PlugVan installation animation

What the PlugVan is is a 6.6-foot-long (2-m) slide-in camping module that rolls into the back of the van on four retractable legs. The design is fully manual, requiring the owner to roll it forward until the front is supported by the load floor of the van. He or she then pulls the front legs up and proceeds to slide it in via the rear legs and floor-level wheels, before pulling those rear legs up and rolling it all the way in.

Once inside the van, the PlugVan module secures via the load floor tie-downs, and the adjustable walls and ceiling grow to fit the full height and width of the van interior. Both the sides and the roof offer up to a foot (30 cm) of expansion, designed to work with the gamut of Euro-market large-van roof heights and load area widths.

Standing inside the van looking at the PlugVan structure 
Standing inside the van looking at the PlugVan structure 

In fact, van flexibility is a foundational principle of the PlugVan design, and Kortmann was so excited about it, he politely grabbed our notebook and started furiously scratching van models down: Volkswagen Crafter/MAN TGE, Mercedes Sprinter, Fiat Ducato/Citroën Jumper/Peugeot Boxer, Renault Master/Opel Movano/Nissan NV400, Ford Transit, Iveco Daily and Hyundai H350. Kortmann reckons that list covers the vast majority of large vans available on the European market and, by extension, other markets where those vans are offered under the same make/models or alternative badges.

With about five minutes of slide-in/set-up time, the PlugVan turns the cold, metal-walled cargo van cabin into a cozy camper van, bringing with it a convertible lounge/dinette/bed, kitchen area, climate control, and smart home system more comprehensive than what major motorhome manufacturers are offering.

The fold-out table works with the bench to create a dining area
The fold-out table works with the bench to create a dining area

The PlugVan interior supports full flexibility and multifunctional use. The cabinets hang from a coat closet-style rod and can easily slide back and forth as needed. The kitchen block folds out into a dining table, lifts up out of the way to make room for the bed and even doubles as a breakfast-in-bed console. The 63 x 77-in (160 x 196-cm) bed builds up in about a minute with some rearranging of cushions.

Just as impressive as the unique "deconstructed camper van" design is the PlugVan's smart home control system. Camper van converters, motorhome manufacturers and van-makers like Mercedes-Benz are starting to incorporate more and more smart home-style hardware into their builds, but PlugVan has developed the most comprehensive little system we've seen for a camper, offering full monitoring and control of all onboard electronics and electrical equipment.

Touchscreen control center and air conditioner
Touchscreen control center and air conditioner

PlugVan's wireless digital control system ties together three-zone lighting control/dimming, climate adjustment, systems and levels monitoring, fan speed control, refrigerator monitoring and adjustment, GPS and more into both the built-in touchscreen and smartphone app. This wireless control works via local network and is available online or off. When the system is connected to the web via the integrated SIM card, it also offers Amazon Alexa voice control.

Screenshot of one of the PlugVan smart control touchpad menus: refrigerator, air conditioning, fan and heat (clockwise starting at top left)
Screenshot of one of the PlugVan smart control touchpad menus: refrigerator, air conditioning, fan and heat (clockwise starting at top left)

Beyond that, the PlugVan is a nicely equipped little camper, complete with small air conditioner, portable single-burner stove, slide-out fridge box, shore-power-operated heater, dual 70-Ah AGM batteries, 43-L fresh and waste water tanks, and plenty of under-bench storage drawers and cabinets. The walls are uninsulated, but there is a small amount of space between the outer module walls and inner van walls, offering some insulation from the outside.

One interesting advantage of the PlugVan compared to a full camper van conversion is that it leaves open a large amount of cargo space in the van, as you can see in the photo below. This gives you plenty of space for bicycles, motorcycles, snow sports equipment, camping gear and more. The clear central aisle of the PlugVan box itself makes possible through-loading oblong gear like surfboards.

The PlugVan is compact enough to leave plenty of room for cargo
The PlugVan is compact enough to leave plenty of room for cargo

Beyond saving money compared to buying a new camper van, the PlugVan is designed to save money in other ways. The company points out that, unlike camper van rentals, cargo van rentals aren't subject to the same kind of high- and low-season pricing, so you can rent at a stable price, year-round. It even suggests that owners might work with van rental companies to store the module at the lot when not in use and rent it out to other travelers, earning a little extra income along the way.

PlugVan held its big public debut at the CMT show, and Kortmann said the company chose the venue over the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon because it hoped some of the residual tech buzz from CES would help sharpen receptiveness to the concept of a high-tech camper van-without-a-van. The fully equipped module at the show, complete with Alexa/touch-based smart home control and all the other features, prices in at €20,000 (approx. US$22,725), but PlugVan also plans to offer simpler, stripped down models right down to €6,000 (US$6,825). It has a separate add-on toilet/shower module in the works that will fill out part of the extra space inside the van without eating up all the cargo capacity.

Source: PlugVan (German)

6 comments
SteveMc
An I nteresting idea behind the rental cost of a base van V bespoke camper van but surely the cost of hiring the insert module is going to bring that back up to AT LEAST the cost of a better equipped camper van? This format is specifically null if a renter doesn’t really need the large empty void for bikes and stuff that could normally be racked externally.
EH
Innovative and practical product at a great price.
Aross
Cute idea for small people but would drive 2 6 footers crazy. Give me my pop-up trailer any day of the week. Not to mention grossly overpriced.
genegough
Seems like a length extension would make sense for those not needing all the storage space.
Joerg Kortmann (PlugVan)
Dear all, let me comment on behalf of PlugVan: @SteveMc: I cannot really speak for the US market but at least in Germany camper van rental is extremely seasonal - to an extent that it can become impossible to even find a camper van at short notice during summer. The trick then is to combine the omnipresent regular vans with a PlugVan module. Whatever rental price it will be - I am convinced it will be competitive. Regarding the "void": it turned out that around 70% of visitors immidiately "filled" (in their imagination) the empty space with their hobbies, tools, cargo, etc. while the remaining 30% didn't really see the beauty in it... @EH: Thanks! @Aross: It depends how well the two 6 footers get along... The bed is at least 6 feet 3 on a width of 32 inches - this is for the heads... The total width is around 65 inches but the shape has some "dents" so it doesn't extend over the whole length. Longer versions can be produced. On the price: add up all the electrical components and quality materials - this accounts for a good part of the price. We aim at a basis model starting at around 6,000 Euros (~ 6,800 USD at current exchange rate) for sale in Germany. In contrast to a pop-up trailer one of the main benefits is the double-use of a van (if you have one, else: renting it) plus you can drive faster than with a trailer (I don't even want to go into stating how fast you are allowed to go with a small truck on the Autobahn ;-). @genegough: 1) We have a "bathroom module" in our development pipeline (quite high in the list). This is going to extend it by around 32 inches and will include shower and toilet (and a bit more). 2) We are also open to offering longer versions of the base module (e.g. for longer beds). @all: Thanks for commenting and thanks to C.C. Weiss for covering our product so thoroughly!
Riaanh
@Joerg, well done guys. A very nice design. It makes a lot of sense to utilize your business vehicle in such a way when on leave.